EDITORIAL: The dangers of social media

Fact-checking, accountability and attribution not generally part of the noise on social media sites

The irresponsibility and lack of accountability of social media and the increase in coverage by legitimate sources in the 24-7 news world are changing the way people view trends and could adversely affect public policy.

According to Statistics Canada, the police-reported crime rate in Canada was at its lowest point in 2013 since 1969. The homicide and attempted murder rates are also at their lowest levels since the 1960s.

Those who live on their phones, scan Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media hourly, would likely be surprised by those facts. And they are also likely to ignore them. You see, some celebrity has been arrested and that’s what constitutes news for too many people these days.

A less serious case in point locally: we noticed reports of increases in cougar and bear sightings in Parksville Qualicum Beach on local social media pages. When we checked it out with people in the know, trained professionals who deal with these matters, we learned the number of such sightings is actually down in our region (see reporter Auren Ruvinsky’s story in the August 4 paper or at www.pqbnews.com).

We don’t profess to be the be-all, end-all of news sources. And we like a titillating tale as much as the next reader. But we do our best to check facts, provide attribution and present both or all sides to a story, whether it’s in the initial report or a follow-up.

In other words, we take our job seriously. And it’s our job, which is different than what’s being done by someone who is posting from their mother’s basement.

Media reports can and do lead to changes in government policy. Much like newspapers these days, municipal governments are pretty lean operations. They can’t be everywhere and can’t be expected to be experts, or have the time to research, every issue.

Politicians have always been reactionary, and to a degree that’s a good thing. But what are they reacting to and what are they getting taxpayer-funded staff to investigate? A hue and cry over something that’s not even close to being accurate? Someone on Facebook might demand action and public money because he/she believes a certain intersection is way too dangerous, when in fact there are a dozen other intersections that have statistics to show they should get tax-dollar attention first.

There’s just not enough ‘consider the source’ going on when it comes to social media these days, and it could prove costly.

— Editorial by John Harding

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